By joining an online Vertical Vegetable club with members from different parts of the world, we exchange information and ideas, successes and failures but it is inspirational to see the amount of produce which can be produced on a balcony in a flat. Since it’s international, we get inspired to try new produce that we probably would never have heard of before. Living in South West Scotland, it’s colder and wetter than further south, in fact South East England, I am sure is not part of Britain, the temperature is often as much as 10 deg. hotter than Scotland in the summer.
Sweet Potatoes are quite popular but not the easiest to grow north of the border. I had seen others having success with taking slips from a purchased sweet potato, so I tried. I bought the freshest looking in the supermarket and I tried, and tried for a few weeks but nothing happened. Everyone else was doing fine but my conclusion was the it must have come from a country which irradiates the produce to make it last longer, thus killing off it’s will to survive. I tried the internet and found a company in the north east of Scotland which had success and after trials, had found varieties which could withstand our climate. The ones I chose were Carolina Ruby, a red tuber and O’Henry, a creamy coloured one, and they are in a container under a mini polytunnel.
Yacon is planted in a potato bag, and it too is a tuber, the large tubers are edible and the small nodules are the seeding parts, so should provide starters for another crop next year, that is if they pass the taste test. Apparently meaning ‘water root’ in Inca language and never having tasted it, I have to depend on what the internet tells me “it’s like a sweet cross between early apples, watermelon and very mild celery, with a touch of pear”, now who could resist trying a tuber like that?
Oca ‘a lost crop of the Incas’, has a lemony taste like new potatoes with lemon butter but is no relation of potatoes, it’s an Oxalis and has the Oxalis leaf fully open during the day and closed at night. They are easy to work with and require no real work, the tubers don’t develop until November so as long as I keep them frost free, they should be fine.
Chinese Artichokes looking like a small grub, Ocas are another tuber which will be virtually perennial providing that when you harvest them, you leave some to germinate the following year. Raw in salads or lightly cooked in butter, they are apparently popular in France and are known there as Crosnes
Potatoes, of course we couldn’t miss out on potatoes, any potatoes at the back of the cupboard that start to sprout are bound for the potato bag. The potato bags are quite handy if you haven’t the space for them in the ground. One of my latest investments though is the potato pot, It’s a large double pot, the inner has it’s sides cut out and it sits inside the outer pot. The idea is that when the potatoes are big enough to harvest, you lift up the inner pot and remove what potatoes you need and return the pot inside the other so that the rest of the potatoes continue to grow. It has been said this will increase in harvest using the pots. They are much tidier and take up less room than the bags.
Cucurtbits and Pieces
Cucumbers take up quite a bit of room and so far my favourite has been a mini cucumber, just the right size to keep it fresh in the fridge.
Courgettes are the same, a couple of fruits and the rest fall off and die.
Tromba, my very impressive peculiar shaped Tromba, an Italian squash translated to mean ‘trombone’, a long curled squash with seeds in the bulbous end, leaving the neck all meat. A very nice vegetable and interesting to grow.
Aubergine has got stuck this year, it hasn’t grown much at all and not even a flower on it. My problem is getting more than two fruits off the vine but I have been advised I’m not feeding them enough, it’s not strong enough. When I find a suitable strong feed, it will get a dose as well and hope that will make it shift.
Tomatoes, I cannot miss out tomatoes, they almost take over the greenhouse. I grow them from seed, germination is usually good and I have enough to share. The ones I keep get either get put in the tomato pots or into the hydroponic tank. I will remark on the tank later. This year I have Gardener’s Delight and Black Cherry ready, the cherry tomatoes are usually the first for picking but this year I tried Matina, a German tomato which doesn’t mind cooler temperatures, it seems to be quite a large tomato and at the moment not ready enough for eating. I have in the past tried Indigo Rose, a black, very black tomato which looked impressive with a very black shiny skin and rosy flesh. Calabash, one of the large odd shaped tomatoes which looks more like someone’s attempt to grow a pin cushion. I’ve also tried Tigerella, Sungold,a yellow tomato, a Tumbling Tom (a waste of time) and various other more common types, like Moneymaker and Alicante. Nothing in my opinion has been as sweet and tasty as Gardener’s Delight and that plus Shirley are the two I wouldn’t like to be without. Another new variety I’m trying this year is Berner Rose, a pink tomato which doesn’t mind it cool, however it was sown much later than the rest and is just about to come into flower. I hope I can get to tasting it, before it’s too late for it.
The Hydroponic Tank was a gift and as a new toy for me to try. The first year, I didn’t realise that the plants needed feeding so much. The tank comes with two gallons of it’s own feed and equal amounts get added according to the amount of water. It take three plants and last year I tried a cucumber and didn’t get anything from it at all, so I just stick to tomatoes. I had two Matina tomato plants, sown at the same time, potted on at the same time into the little plastic cups and when ready to move on, they were equal sizes. I planted one in a pot and the other in the tank. The one in the pot is tall and lanky with flowers just starting to open. The one in the tank has a stem like a tree trunk and large fruits. The taste is fine but not really impressive but I would like to try the potted version in case the flavour is different from that of the one in the tank.
I’ve always had strawberries and having offered some tomato plants on Freecycle, one of the recipients brought a tray of strawberry plants. They were really sweet and delicious but even taking runners from them, I didn’t get the same harvest the second year. I bought strawberries and they were OK but never really got a reasonable amount of fruits of them. This year I bought plants from a specialist and it has been well worth it. The Sonata Strawberry fruits are large and sweet – and abundant, just hope I can keep them until next year. Some of my older ones need to go, they are small and lack flavour now. I did buy some of the white strawberry plants and whilst they grew white with red seeds, they did ultimately turn red and I never noticed whether they tasted of pineapple or not.
I have added other fruits to my collection this year, having decided a shrub would be better than annuals. I bought a Chilean Guava which is now in flower. It bears small red berries which are supposed to be very sweet and good for jam if you get enough. My shrub is new and there are only about 1-2 flowers on it meantime so any idea of making jam will be delayed.
Arctic Raspberry (or bramble) depending on the site, small, low-growing, incredibly sweet, smallish, thornless raspberry, I’m hoping it will increase in size for next year.
Japanese Wineberry, another raspberry-like fruit but it’s not even in flower so I may have to wait until next year to try it.
Mertensia Maritima aka Oyster Plant, the leaves taste like Oysters (sort of but never having tasted oysters I have to take their word for it, although there is a delicate seafoody taste), it’s a pretty plant with bluish silver leaves and blue/mauve flowers. Different sites advise different preferences for growing but apparently it’s a seaside plant but it can be happy growing anywhere. Also thought to be a bit rare so that is an incentive to keep it alive.
There are more to come but it might take a while …
Rosemary, Moroccan Mint, Chocolate Mint, Indian Mint, Lemon Balm, Southern Wormwood, Chives, Oregano, Marjoram, Broad Leaf Thyme, Lemon Thyme, Thyme, Fennel, Sorrel, Sage, Basil are all growing nicely at the moment, they seem to be quite hardy and don’t need a lot of care.
More on herbs later….
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